Friday, December 21, 2012


Today's staff meeting at the Center for Court Innovation was a timely one.  Yale Law professor Tracey Meares talked about how to craft anti-violence strategies based on theories of legitimacy and procedural justice.  In the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, a lot of public conversation has been devoted to the prospect of gun control legislation.  There are, of course, things that we can be doing to stop gun violence in the here and now, without waiting for lawmakers in Washington D.C.  Meares' strategy is an example.  

With the help of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the US Department of Justice, we are testing Meares' approach in Brownsville.  This involves working with key law enforcement agencies (NYPD, the Brooklyn District Attorney, the US Attorney's Office) to convene "offender notification meetings" with parolees from Brownsville.  The meetings are designed to send a crystal clear message to would-be shooters that they have a choice to make.  On the one hand, law enforcement representatives testify that violence and gun possession will be treated harshly.  On the other hand, ex-offenders and social service providers communicate that change is possible and that resources are available to anyone who wants to get out of a life of violence.  The program is still in its infancy, but I have high hopes for it.

While I'm on the subject of guns, the reaction to the Newton massacre reminded me of a piece in the New York Review of Books by David Cole.  Back in September, Cole wrote:

"While...massacres justifiably [spark] the nation's horror and sympathy, the deeper tragedy is that every single day in this country, more than thirty people are killed by guns.  Few of these everyday victims generate national headlines; indeed, gun homicide is so routine that many do not even warrant a local news story.  But it is the decidedly nonglamorous, quotidian infliction of death and serious injury by gun owners that deserves our focused and sustained attention.  And politicians' cowardice in the face of the NRA is not the only obstacle to meaningful reform; an even greater hurdle lies in the fact that we seem willing to accept an intolerable situation as long as the victims are, for the most part, young black and Hispanic men."

In a similar vein, Amy Ellenbogen of our Crown Heights Community Mediation Center recently devoted a blog posting to how the Newtown tragedy resonated in central Brooklyn.  It is well worth reading. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My In-Box

I have just returned to New York following a whirlwind visit to London to check in on our Centre for Justice Innovation.   I'll probably write more about our progress in the UK when I have a moment, but in the meantime, here is a quick spin through a few of the things in my in-box that I found particularly interesting.

  • The Silent Victims of Incarceration -- CNN runs a story on the children of incarcerated parents that features Chris Watler of the Harlem Community Justice Center. 
  • Brushes With the Law -- The latest report from Child Welfare Watch examines teens in the criminal justice system and touches on a number of Center for Court Innovation-related topics, including the Red Hook Community Justice Center and our work on alternatives-to-detention and NY State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's adolescent diversion initiative. 
  • Kindle Project -- Our pilot peacemaking project in Red Hook receives a grant from the Kindle Project of the Common Counsel Foundation. 
  • A New Reason to Kvell -- Morrie Arnovich, my first cousin, twice-removed (whom I wrote about here) finally gets his due from the New York Times. 
  • Wesleyan Center for Prison Education -- Fall newsletter from my friends at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
  • New York Court Families Assistance Fund -- The National Center for State Courts supports the efforts of the New York (and New Jersey) courts to help employees recover from Hurricane Sandy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

One Direction at the Garden

Last night, I took my two daughters to see One Direction at Madison Square Garden.  It was a quite an experience.  Although I am by now well-acquainted with the music of One Direction (currently on constant rotation at my house), I was unprepared for the raw energy of the crowd, which easily had the most lopsided female-to-male ratio of any concert I have ever attended.  Once I got used to the noise, I found the passion that the audience brought to the show infectious.  Indeed, the affection for the band was so intense that it felt a little like the audience willed One Direction into existence rather than vice versa.

As for the show itself, I found much to admire about the performance.  It certainly was an enormous contrast to the first concert I went to as a kid, when my parents took me to see the New Barbarians at the Capital Center in 1979.  Both the New Barbarians and the Capital Center are long gone -- and with good reason.  The Capital Center was a charmless concrete arena in the middle of nowhere in suburban Maryland.  The New Barbarians were a "super group" formed by Ron Wood and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.  In the run up to the concert, rumors swirled that Mick Jagger would make a surprise appearance (no such luck) and that this tour might be the last chance to see Keith Richards on stage (a forecast that seems laughable today after four additional decades of Rolling Stones concerts).  My dominant memories of the show are of the haze of smoke (one part cigarette to four parts marijuana) that enveloped the upper tier where we sat and of a performance that could most charitably be described as loose and unconcerned with popular opinion (a glance at the set list reveals that the New Barbarians played only a handful of the Stones' hits that everyone had come to hear).

I don't think anyone will ever accuse a One Direction performance of being loose or unconcerned with public sentiment.  And, thanks to Michael Bloomberg, there was mercifully no smoke whatsoever at Madison Square Garden last night.

Over a tight 90 minutes or so, One Direction played all of their big hits.  They never departed from the recorded arrangements.  The only moments that felt improvisational occurred when they paused to answer questions posed (via Twitter) by members of the audience.  Interestingly, this segment of the show was my daughters' favorite.

I think my younger self, obsessed with things like indie credibility, might have found the One Direction experience bloodless.  But last night I found myself admiring the group's poise and discipline.  One Direction clearly understand their strengths and are rigorous about sticking to them.  So the show featured no extended bongo solos or embarrassing efforts to rap.  And while the show felt well-rehearsed, it never seemed overly choreographed.  When the guys did interact with one another -- for example, performing a group hug at the end of the show -- it sparked legitimate delight amongst the crowd.

Viewed through the lens of a non-profit manager, the One Direction concert offered numerous lessons, primarily about brand management.  One of the Center for Court Innovation's goals is to develop a reputation for independence and non-partisanship.  In the real world, this is sometimes challenging, since our work requires us to interact with elected officials regularly.  (Indeed, while I was at the One Direction concert last night, the Citizens Crime Commission held a fundraiser featuring several of the current candidates  for New York City mayor, at least one of which publicly endorsed community courts and bemoaned the fact that the City did not have more of them.)  

Functionally, our desire to protect our non-partisan image means that we have to say no to many tempting opportunities.  In fact, just this week, we declined to sign on to an effort to influence educational policy in New York City.  At the risk of forcing an analogy, my analysis was that this advocacy effort was the equivalent of a bongo solo. There's a place in this world for bongo solos, just not at a One Direction concert.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"I'm Your Mother"

Last night was a special evening in central Brooklyn: a celebration of Ife Charles, who has recently been promoted from being the deputy director of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center to assisting with all of our gun violence prevention programs citywide.  The standing-room-only crowd packed into the storefront mediation center testified to the remarkable breadth of Ife's influence: young and old, black and white, Christian and Jewish, Brooklyn and non-Brooklyn...Ife has touched the lives of a diverse group of people.  

I'm proud to count myself among that number.  Part of what has sustained me over the nearly 20 years that I have been a part of the Center for Court Innovation is having the opportunity to work alongside people that I admire.  Ife's integrity, her strength in the face of adversity, her commitment to improving New York neighborhoods, and her willingness to laugh at herself -- these are all qualities that I strive to emulate and that have helped make the Center for Court Innovation a great place to work. 

There were lots of great moments last night: a video tribute to Ife from her daughter, proclamations from the City Council and other elected officials, etc., but my favorite was when Amy Ellenbogen told a story about Ife intervening before two rival groups of teenagers could get into a fight on the street. "Who are you?" one of the kids asked, challenging Ife's right to step in.  "I'm your mother...and your mother...and your mother..." she said, pointing to each of the potential combatants in turn.   The world would be a better place if there were more parents like Ife.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Court Reform on Trial

One of the more enjoyable assignments I have had of late was provided to me by the good folks at Quid Pro Books, who asked me to write the foreword for a new edition of Malcolm Feeley's Court Reform on Trial: Why Simple Solutions Fail.  I was flattered by the ask.  I am a big fan of Feeley's work, which also includes the classic The Process Is The Punishment.

It was a pleasure to be given an excuse to re-read Court Reform on Trial, which was one of the few books that directly influenced Trial & Error in Criminal Justice Reform.  As a teaser to encourage sales of the reprint when it becomes available, I offer this small taste of Feeley's prose from Court Reform on Trial:

"Whatever one's goals, there is a tendency to expect too much of the courts.  Higher standards can lead to improvements, but exaggerated expectations can also foster disillusionment...Courts cannot solve the problem of crime or event make a significant dent in it.  Thus, in a very real sense the courts -- charged with handling society's failures -- will always fail.  What the family, the church, the workplace, and the school cannot do, neither can the courts."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Holiday Momentum

It feels like we are heading into the holidays with a healthy dose of momentum at the Center for Court Innovation.  Last week was a busy one across the organization.

For example, our youth justice team organized a training session for local principals and teachers who are interested in starting school-based youth courts.  (The above photo is taken from the event, which took place in our midtown headquarters).

Meanwhile, our tribal team brought a group of Navajo leaders to Red Hook to train local residents in how to create a peacemaking program at the Justice Center.

The Midtown Community Court hosted a celebration honoring the men who had graduated from the Court's fathering program.

We also hosted a training session for the Juvenile Justice Corps, our AmeriCorps program.  We've been running an AmeriCorps program since the initiative was launched by President Clinton's administration.    The Corps members have become an essential part of the daily operations of many of our demonstration projects; they were particularly helpful in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as we attempted to restore Red Hook.  This year's cohort, which began their service year in October, is particularly impressive.  I look forward to seeing what they will accomplish.

And this is not to mention a series of meetings designed to improve the ways that we work with defendants and victims suffering from trauma, a visit from the chief judge of Chicago's criminal court, our work behind-the-scenes to help the New York courts establish a fund for victims of Hurricane Sandy, etc. etc. etc.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Supporting Brooklyn Parents

Today we celebrated the 4th graduating class at the Kings County Parent Support Program, an initiative in Family Court that seeks to give non-custodial parents the services and structure they need to make child support payments and become effective parents to their children.

As is the case with so many of the projects that we help to implement, the Parent Support Program is the product of vibrant partnership involving multiple agencies, all of which were well-represented at the graduation today, including the New York City Family Court and the City of New York's Human Resources Administration.

There were two highlights from the graduation from my perspective.  The first was the keynote speech by Vicki Turetsky who is the commissioner of the Office of Child Support Enforcement at the US Department of Health and Human Services.  As Support Magistrate Nicholas Palos said in his remarks, Turetsky helped to inspire the development of the Parent Support Program three years ago, so it was great to have her participate in the celebration.

The other highlight was hearing directly from the 24 men who were graduating today.  More remarkable than any single thing that anyone said was the atmosphere in the courtroom.  Going to court can be a stressful experience and child support cases are often highly contentious.  Yet here was a courtroom full of smiling, proud fathers who interacted easily with support magistrate Palos and the rest of the court team.  All of them had worked hard to reduce their arrears and contribute to the well-being of their kids.  We haven't performed a formal evaluation of the program, but I'd be surprised if it didn't provide more evidence of the importance of procedural justice and treating litigants with dignity and respect.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday in Red Hook

Just back from a few hours in Red Hook.  I think I have to stop going there on beautiful, sunny afternoons -- I fear my impressions may be overly optimistic based on the weather.  

I spent some time today at the Justice Center, where they have moved from trash removal to demolition.  The crucial issue at this point is restoring electricity to the building.  While the power is out, much of our staff has been re-deployed to the courts in downtown Brooklyn, along with Judge Calabrese. 

As I was touring the Justice Center, we also had crews of Center staffers delivering food and surveying public housing tenants about their medical needs.  This included a team from Brownsville, in a nice bit of inter-project partnership.  

After leaving the Justice Center, I visited the Red Hook branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, which is being used as a warming center for those without heat.  There were about a dozen folks there reading, talking on the phone, chatting with one another.   I was particularly heartened to hear that the water had been restored to the public housing development and that the hallways had been cleaned and sanitized.  Still, the bottom line is that there is no power or heat in the Houses and no firm date on when they will return.  

The striking thing about Red Hook at the moment is just how much activity there is.  Normally, it is a pretty quiet neighborhood.  But between the volunteers from across the city, the government workers who have been deployed to the area, and all of the home owners and business owners who have to clean out their buildings, there are dozens of people on streets where typically you encounter next to no one.  

One such person was D___, a guy I know who lives on Van Brunt Street. He showed me his building, where the tide had completely submerged the basement and two feet of the first floor.  He had succeeded in cleaning and drying out the wet areas but was frustrated because he was unable to cut the red tape necessary to get electricity back in his building.  Still, he was in generally good spirits, acknowledging that his problems were "first-world" problems -- "loss of money, not loss of life."

We've set up a donation page for those who would like to contribute to the restoration of the Justice Center.  Click here to donate.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Ghosts of Mississippi

One of the small benefits of being housebound for much of last week was that I had a chance to catch up on my television viewing.  One of the highlights was watching Ghosts of Ole Miss, a documentary that is part of ESPN's ongoing "30 for 30" series.  The film looks at the events of the fall of 1962 at the University of Mississippi, which featured an undefeated football team and the chaos that ensued when James Meredith became the first black student ever enrolled at the University.

Ghosts of Ole Miss isn't a perfect film by any means -- the two halves of the story never quite come together (the football stars don't have much to add about Meredith) and the filmmaker made the unfortunate choice to rely on stylized reenactments of crucial scenes -- but it makes for compelling viewing nonetheless.  In truth, the integration of Ole Miss is such an extraordinary and dramatic moment in American history that it would be hard to make a film about it that wasn't riveting.  Meredith's dignity and courage in the face of violence, the naked racism of the Ole Miss students and Mississippi governor Ross Barnett, the political machinations of President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy...the story has lots of different facets.

I was particularly drawn to Ghosts of Ole Miss because I wrote my undergraduate thesis at Wesleyan University on James Meredith.  Entitled "A Harbinger of Change: The Meredith March Against Fear and the Decline of the Civil Rights Movement," the paper looked at Meredith's decision to walk across Mississippi in 1966 -- a march that became a major civil rights event after Meredith was shot by a would-be assassin.

As part of my research, I actually corresponded directly with Meredith in November 1988.  I spent a half an hour just now looking through my papers trying to find his letter to me.  No luck.  If I were truly intrepid, I could find my letter to Meredith, which, according to a Google search, is contained in his archives at Ole Miss.  I made one pilgrimage to Oxford more than 25 years ago.  Maybe I'll make another at some point to visit my letter.

UPDATE: Another half an hour of searching through old shoe boxes turned up Meredith's handwritten letter to me.  Meredith graciously directed me to a Newsweek story on the March Against Fear while flatly denying that he was ever part of the civil rights movement (he must have been responding to some question that I had posed).   He also included several news clips and public letters that articulated his opinions about the issues of the day, some of which were quite bizarre.  I'm glad I found Meredith's correspondence and resolve to put in a safer place going forward.  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Sunny Saturday

Better news to report from my trip to Red Hook today.  Maybe it was because it is the weekend and the sun is shining.  Or maybe it was the rumors that power would be restored to the Red Hook Houses tomorrow. Or maybe the relief efforts are starting to make a difference. Whatever the case, it seemed to me that there was a more positive buzz in the neighborhood today.

Walking through the community, there were numerous signs of life and spirit -- public housing tenants using an AT&T truck to charge their phones, dozens of volunteers assembling for duty at the Red Hook Initiative, National Guard personnel distributing food to a small and orderly line of needy residents at Coffey Park, Defonte's Sandwich Shop open for business using an emergency generator, business owners along Van Brunt Street clearing out the debris from their storefronts, etc.

There was also activity at the Justice Center, where a small team of contractors was working under the watchful eye of a supervisor from the City's Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and two court officers.  The cleanup effort will continue on Monday and will probably take a couple of weeks to complete.   There are numerous details to work out before the doors of the Justice Center can be re-opened and the courtroom can begin hearing cases again.  But at least we have taken the first steps down the road toward recovery.  

The photo at the top of this post is from the front door of the Justice Center.  And the photo below is from the food delivery efforts in the Gowanus Houses.

 For more on Red Hook, check out these photos from WNYC or this article from the Village Voice, which quotes a (misidentified) Viviana Gordon from the Red Hook Community Justice Center. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Red Hook in Recovery

Mixed news to report from my trip to Red Hook today.  As previously reported, the Justice Center is in pretty bad shape.  The basement floor, which contains our computer lab, youth programs, holding cells, storage area, and court officer space will have to be almost completely re-built -- the water came to about chest level, destroying all files, furniture, and computers.

The neighborhood also seemed in a fragile state.  There is still no power, the weather is getting colder, and frustration is rising among both residents and business owners.  In the absence of hard news about when the electricity would go back on, how food would be disbursed, and what monies would be available to support restoration, rumors were swirling through the community.

On the positive side, we had a crew of a couple dozen Center for Court Innovation staffers in Red Hook to help out with recovery efforts.  When the National Guard arrived with food, our team was on hand to distribute supplies to those in need in public housing.  They will be at it again tomorrow morning.

Here are a couple more photos from my walk through the neighborhood.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More on Sandy

Today was a day to assess the damage that Sandy has wrought.  Perhaps predictably, the news was both good and bad.  Several Center for Court Innovation projects managed to get up and running, albeit imperfectly.  While we were open for business at Bronx Community Solutions, Brownsville Community Justice Center, QUEST, and the Harlem Community Justice Center, several projects remained closed, including the Staten Island Youth Justice Center, Midtown Community Court, Newark Community Solutions, and the Red Hook Community Justice Center.

Red Hook, which is located in southwest Brooklyn a short walk from the waterfront, has been the hardest hit.  A torn banner is the least of our worries (thanks to Brett Taylor for the above photo); in addition to having no electricity, the building also has several feet of water inside.  I fear it will be some time before the Justice Center is back to full operations.

In the meantime, our team in Red Hook is still working to make a difference in the neighborhood.  According to Jessica Colon, the deputy director of the Justice Center:

This morning, we canvassed Red Hook to identify areas and people in assistance. The volunteers worked with the New York City Housing Authority to reach out to home-bound, frail, and elderly residents in Red Hook's public housing development. Volunteers are also working with another local organizations, including the Red Hook Initiative which is giving out supplies and food to local residents.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Recovering From Sandy

Like the rest of the New York metropolitan area, all of us at the Center for Court Innovation are recovering from yesterday's storm.  Unfortunately, because public transit has been suspended, it has been difficult to assess what we will be facing as we look to get our operations back on line.

I've had several reports from Red Hook, which was one of the coastal areas that experienced major flooding yesterday.  Thankfully, the exterior of the Red Hook Community Justice Center appears undamaged (save for the banner), but no one has been able to go inside to see what kind of damage the water did.   Red Hook in general appears to be a "mess" according to our staff there -- strong smell of sewage, lights out, debris everywhere.

Other than that, not too much to report.  The exterior of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center appears to have been damaged by the winds.   At least one Center staffer lives in Zone A and had to be evacuated.  Several are still without power.

Clearly, it is going to take some time for us to be back at full strength, both as an organization and as a City.  But we have been through a lot in recent years -- 9-11, the blackout of 2003, Hurricane Irene, the financial collapse of 2008, etc -- and I know we will get through this too.

Friday, October 26, 2012

My Cousin (Twice Removed)

We're in the midst of the World Series so baseball is on my mind a little more than it usually is.

In truth, it has been years since I actively followed major league baseball.  I grew up in Washington DC and was a fairly rabid Baltimore Orioles fan back when the O's fielded stars like Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken and regularly competed for championships.  Since moving to New York City in the early 1990s, I've left behind my loyalty to the O's, but I have never managed to summon much enthusiasm for my adopted hometown's teams;  the Yankees and the Mets tend to be either unlikable or unwatchable -- and sometimes both.

In recent years, the slim line keeping me tethered to our national pastime has been a family tie.  It turns out that my grandmother's cousin was a big-leaguer: Morrie Arnovich.  Arnovich is remembered by few without a blood link to him, but he played for several seasons in the 1930s and 1940s, even making the All-Star team.  I like to joke that he's the 5th greatest Jewish baseball player of all-time, since most people can only name two famous Jewish players (Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg), but the truth is that Arnovich was nowhere near that good.  (See, for example, this list of the best 18 Jewish ballplayers of all-time, which scandalously fails to even mention my first cousin twice removed.)

Anyway, I've started to compile a small collection of Morrie Arnovich cards and paraphernalia.  (I realize it is a banal observation, but it is amazing what you can find on eBay.  I just paused to do a quick search and found multiple Morrie Arnovich autographs on sale, although the price tags -- typically around 150 bucks -- deterred me from making an impulse buy.)

The Internet is also a great place to find the occasional Morrie Arnovich anecdote.  Here's my favorite: the story of how Arnovich, who was mostly a singles hitter and weighed in the neighborhood of 170 pounds, hit the longest home run in baseball history.  I desperately want to believe this story is true.

Addendum: Sadly, just hours after I wrote the above post, I learned that one of the biggest baseball fans that I have ever known, Jimmy White, passed away.  Jimmy was a hard-core Boston Red Sox supporter.  He lived through decades when this meant an annual dose of misery, not to mention derision from other teams' fans.   Jimmy lived most of his life behind enemy lines in Washington DC, serving as a lawyer at the Department of Energy -- and a close friend of my parents.   I loved talking baseball with Jimmy -- his love for the game was infectious.  He brought a wry sense of humor to the Red Sox' foibles, and to the rest of his life as well.  I will miss him.

Probation Exchange

Today marks the final day of a four-day visit to New York by Heather Munro, the head of the London Probation Trust, and a team of her senior staff.   The trip was organized by the Centre for Justice Innovation and included visits to a number of our demonstration projects (Red Hook, Brownsville, Newark, etc.) as well as to New York City Probation. 

To cap off the visit, we had a wide-ranging conversation here at the Center's headquarters covering such topics as risk-needs responsivity, cost-benefit analysis, and peer mentoring.  Heather described how her agency is adapting to a changing landscape in England, particularly the growing interest in contracting out some government functions to private providers and testing "payment by results" commissioning schemes. 

Over the past few years, we have worked on several projects that involved Probation officials in England and Wales.  (For example, see Phil Bowen's recent piece on Intensive Alternatives to Custody.)   One of the things that I like about the relationship that we have developed is that it feels like a genuine two-way street: there is a great deal going on in England that we would do well to emulate here in New York.  For example, one of the initiatives that Heather described was UserVoice, an effort to give probationers a formal, organized voice within Probation.  Building on the similar work we've done with the Youth Justice Board, this feels like an idea we should be looking at closely.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reflections on Jane Jacobs

Great news from our friends at the Rockefeller Foundation: Rosanne Haggerty, the founder of Community Solutions and the Brownsville Partnership, is one of the winners of the Jane Jacobs Medal for her contributions to urban life in New York City.

I've known Rosanne for more than a decade and have always admired her drive and ambition.  In fact, the Center for Court Innovation made an institutional commitment to Brownsville largely because of Rosanne's advocacy -- she has been relentless in trying to attract dollars, programming, and political will to the neighborhood.  The Center is just one of many organizations that she has cajoled into action.   I'm grateful for her friendship and excited about this latest feather in her cap.

As it happens, I've been thinking about Jane Jacobs' classic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities a lot recently as I've tried to work out my feelings about the new Brooklyn Nets arena around the corner from my house.  What would Jacobs have thought of the Barclays Center?  It is impossible to say, of course.   On the one hand, as an advocate for the street grid, she may have loathed the sheer size of the project and the impact it has on the flow of pedestrians between Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Fort Greene. On the other hand, as a believer in mixed use, she may have championed the way that the building is bringing new audiences and new activities into the center of Brooklyn.

As a special bonus, here's a link to Rosanne Haggerty writing about Jane Jacobs.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Different Sort of Court

The New York World takes a deep look at a part of the justice system that rarely gets much attention: how summonses are processed.  The Red Hook Community Justice Center is featured prominently.  Speaking of Red Hook, one of the Justice Center's latest experiments is an effort to adapt some of the restorative peacemaking ideas that have long been a feature of tribal justice systems to southwest Brooklyn.  The Red Hook Star-Revue has an early look at the project, which is very much in its infancy.  Finally, our research director, Mike Rempel, offers a blog posting on "Social Science Space" about the impact of drug courts.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Young Men's Initiative

Scott Millstein, the executive director of Coro New York, recently sent me a link to the annual report for Mayor Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative.  While Scott was sending it around because Coro's youth leadership council is prominently featured, I couldn't help thumbing through the entire document, which details the city's effort -- in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and Open Society Foundations -- to alter the life trajectories of young black and Hispanic men across New York.  It is an ambitious program that touches on issues of health, education, employment, and justice. 

The Center for Court Innovation has been an active partner in several pieces of the Young Men's Initiative, including its efforts to reform probation (NeON, Justice Community), create new alternatives to incarceration (AIM), and ease the reentry process (Justice Corps).  Indeed, one of the participants in our Brownsville program is featured on p. 39 of the Young Men's Initiative annual report.

One of our goals at the Center is to serve as a resource for reformers in local government.  Sometimes this means working in far-flung locations, in places like Alaska or Australia or Saudi Arabia or Scotland, training judges and providing advice to officials trying to make their justice systems more effective.  Closer to home, in New York City, we play a similar role but also go a step further, operating programs that attempt to make a difference in the lives of thousands of New Yorkers.  Our work with the Young Men's Initiative is a good indication that local policymakers continue to see us as a valuable partner.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Innovative Judging

The title of this year's American Judges Association conference, which took place this week in New Orleans, was "Innovative Judging."  The event had a decided Center for Court Innovation flavor.  Rebecca Tomforde Hauser led two sessions, one on how judges should handle pro se protective orders and the other on how rural judges are grappling with domestic violence.  Aubrey Fox led a session with judge Steve Alm from Hawaii on the HOPE Probation model.  And I facilitated a panel on community courts that featured Courtney Bryan of the Midtown Community Court, Russell Canan of DC Superior Court, Victoria Pratt of Newark Community Solutions, and Thomas Gove of the Vancouver Community Court.

One of the themes that ran through the entire conference was the value of procedural justice.   For those of us who care about this idea, this is good news: as persuasive as external advocates can be, if procedural justice is going to take deep root in the judiciary, it is crucial to have judges convince other judges to re-think their approach on the bench.  Full credit goes to Kevin Burke and Brian MacKenzie for their commitment to procedural justice and for organizing the conference.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Set It Off

In addition to the start of the Harlem Justice Corps, Friday also marked the opening of the Barclays Center, a new stadium that will house the Brooklyn Nets as well as various concerts and other events.  I'm a Brooklyn resident and a basketball fan, so I have followed the development of the stadium with some interest.  My interest was heightened by the fact that I live a few blocks away from the stadium so its success or failure will directly impact the quality of my life.

The arena opened with a concert by Brooklyn's most famous rapper, Jay-Z.  I didn't get tickets, but I took my daughters to soak up the atmosphere outside the building.  It was a fun occasion -- there was  nice spirit on the streets.  Inside, Jay-Z paid tribute to the golden era of hip-hop by giving Big Daddy Kane, one of my all-time favorite rappers, a share of his spotlight.  Big Daddy Kane appears around the 6 minute mark in this video shot by an amateur cameraman.

The Clouds Part in Harlem

Friday was a rainy day in New York City, but the clouds parted and the sky was blue by the time I left the open house for our newest project in Harlem: the Harlem Justice Corps.  The weather seemed an apt metaphor for what we are trying to do with this project, which is part of the NYC Justice Corps, a program created by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Center for Economic Opportunity.

The Harlem Justice Corps will work intensively with young people (ages 18-24) with a history of involvement with the criminal justice system.  The goal is not just to help them avoid criminal behavior, but to provide them with the kind of coaching and training that will help them find fulfilling work -- in other words, to help shepherd talented but troubled young people to brighter futures.  It is a challenging project that sets ambitious goals for a difficult population.

To find out more, I encourage you to check out the Twitter feed of the Harlem Community Justice Center.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fighting Gun Crime

Yesterday's press event in Brownsville was a good one: BJA director Denise O'Donnell, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, Brooklyn DA Joe Hynes and US Attorney Loretta Lynch spoke in front of a crowd of several dozen community residents and reporters at the Stone Avenue Library.  Despite the fact that everyone was there because of a serious problem (gun violence in the neighborhood), the mood in the room was upbeat and optimistic.

The program that we are launching in Brownsville, which we are calling the Brownsville Anti-Violence Project, attempts to bring together law enforcement and community voices to deliver a clear message to potential offenders that violence is not acceptable.  In many ways, yesterday's press conference embodied the underlying values of the project -- it gathered together federal officials, local justice system players, social service providers, and neighborhood residents to talk about how to work collaboratively to solve community problems.

All of the speakers were great, but my favorite was probably Mark Tanis, a Brownsville business leader.  Here is a YouTube video that offers a portion of his remarks:

And here are selected links to some of the coverage from the press conference:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"This Is Called Tough Love"

A nice piece from the Associated Press on community courts entitled "Novel courts handle low-level crimes" has been picked up by a number of media outlets, including Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal.  My favorite quote in the article comes from Lillian Sing, the judge at the San Francisco Community Justice Center, who tells a defendant, "This is called tough love.  I don't want to see you die on the streets."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Brownsville on the Move

The Brownsville Community Justice Center continues to gather momentum.  On Friday, the Brooklyn Community Foundation, one of our core funders, sent around an email blast highlighting the mural that we recently created in partnership with Groundswell and the NYC Department of Probation and others.  Next week, another one of our core funders -- the US Department of Justice -- will hold a press event in Brownsville to celebrate a new, national initiative that seeks to focus the energies of the justice system on innovative, place-based interventions.  Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes will be one of the featured speakers and will talk about our join efforts to reduce gun crime in the neighborhood.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Close to Home

Today, I was fortunate to spend a few hours at Gracie Mansion attending a kick-off event for New York City's Close to Home initiative.  As NYC Probation Commissioner Vinny Schiraldi explained, the program is a landmark effort to halt what has been the trend in juvenile justice for generations:  confining increasingly large numbers of troubled urban kids in rural facilities.   Instead, thanks to a unique partnership with Governor Cuomo and legislative change in Albany, the City will attempt to keep as many city kids as possible "close to home" by creating a range of new responses to delinquency, including non-secure group homes in all five boroughs and Westchester County.

I don't mean to wax rhapsodic, but the event made me feel proud to be a New Yorker -- both the talent and the commitment to change on display at Gracie Mansion were inspiring.  Of course, it helped that the event had a significant Center for Court Innovation presence.  Raye Barbieri and Jackie Sherman, two former Center staffers, are key players in the reform effort at the Administration for Children's Services.  In addition, one of the new programs that was highlighted today -- Probation's Advocate Intervene Mentor (AIM) initiative -- will be implemented on Staten Island with the help of our Staten Island Youth Justice Center.   All in all, a good day both for the Center and for the City.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Crime, Non-profit Managment, and Peter Drucker

At the end of last week, I sat down for an interview with Winfried Weber, a professor at Mannheim University in Germany and the editor of Peter F. Drucker's Next Management, a book that I contributed a chapter to a couple of years back.  Weber is working on a new project on non-profit management.  I spent some time with him describing how the Center for Court Innovation thinks about reforming the justice system and the ways in which its status as a non-profit organization enhances (and, sometimes detracts) from this mission.   

By coincidence, last week Claremont's Drucker Institute did a blog posting that attempted to bring Peter Drucker's perspective to the debate about why crime has gone down in the US.  (For my take on why crime has declined in New York, check out A Thousand Small Sanities.)  

All of this talk of Peter Drucker reminded me of one of my favorite pieces of his: What Business Can Learn From Nonprofits.  Apologies if I have already linked to this article, but even after all of these years, I think it is still a healthy reminder that, notwithstanding recent claims to the contrary during the presidential race, the for-profit sector isn't the only place to learn effective management.

Finally, a couple of links:

Temple University obituary for John Goldkamp.

The New York Times covers a mural project co-sponsored by the Brownsville Community Justice Center.

Monday, August 27, 2012

John Goldkamp, RIP

Sad news to report today.  My friend Tim Murray of the Pretrial Justice Institute tells me that John Goldkamp has passed away.   John was one of the leading criminal justice researchers in the country; he served for many years as the chair of Temple University's department of criminal justice.   

Unlike many of his peers, John was always eager to influence the world beyond academia.  While his research touched on many different subjects, I know John best from his work with drug courts.   When the field was still in an embryonic stage back in the early 1990s, John made several important intellectual contributions; among other things, he was the author or co-author of several studies that documented the effectiveness of drug courts.  At the Center for Court Innovation, we tabbed him on numerous occasions to participate in roundtables and to help us think through tricky research questions, including how to evaluate our technical assistance work with justice reformers around the country.

So John was a thoughtful academic who cared deeply about reforming the criminal justice system.   He was also a lot of fun.  I didn't get to hang out with him often, particularly in recent years, but whenever I did I had a good time.  I enjoyed his (sometimes sarcastic) sense of humor and appreciated his generosity in lettting me pick his brain.  (I think the fact that we both went to Wesleyan, albeit 20 years apart, maybe helped.)

It is difficult to convey John's unique personality in a short blog  posting.  If you are interested in getting just a taste of what John's voice was like, I encourage you to check out this interview that we conducted with him a few years ago as part of our failure project.   All of the trademark Goldkamp attributes are there, including his ability to look at the world from different angles and his capacity to marry scholarly insight to practical application.  I know I'm not alone in saying that I will miss him.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

This August marks the 50th anniversary of the first Spider-man comic book.  It may seem laughable, but I trace my interest in working in the non-profit sector to reading Spider-man as a kid.  For whatever reason, I was always struck by one of the core underlying themes of the Spider-man comics: Peter Parker's ability to rise above both challenges (his lack of a father, troubles with money) and temptations (the lure of celebrity) in order to do the right thing.  

In Spidey's honor, here are a few recent links from the Center for Court Innovation, many of which feature honorable people trying to do good work in difficult circumstances:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Report from Oxford

Last week, Jane Donoghue of the University of Oxford convened an international symposium on problem-solving courts and therapeutic jurisprudence.  It was a small, academic gathering, but several countries were represented nonetheless: Spain, England, Scotland, Holland, the US.  I was one of two Americans, along with David Wexler from the University of Puerto Rico.  (If you are interested in a look at Wexler's presentation, check out "New Wine in New Bottles.")

I've participated in a few academic gatherings devoted to problem-solving justice in my time.  I'm not generally a defensive person, but I often have to discipline myself not to feel attacked at these kinds of events.  In general, I find that many legal academics perform a similar maneuver when it comes to problem-solving courts: attempting to demonstrate how a putatively progressive idea is actually deeply regressive and harmful to defendants.  

The academic objections to problem-solving courts seem to boil down to two issues: first, a concern that, because of problem-solving courts, government money that should be given to community centers and social workers will instead be spent on the criminal justice system, and second, a concern that by unleashing judicial discretion, problem-solving courts give judges the freedom to run amok in a paternalistic effort to "cure" poor people and minorities.

These objections did indeed get expressed at Oxford, but I didn't find the tenor of the symposium overly negative. I think a lot of the credit goes to Eric Miller, a professor at St. Louis University School of Law, who aired many criticisms of problem-solving courts but did so in a manner that exhibited humor, warmth, and sensitivity.  In truth, I found myself agreeing with much of Miller's paper: he raises legitimate concerns about proportionality and due process and the unnecessary extension of state power that all problem-solving advocates would do well to keep in the back of their minds. 

Perhaps the most exciting part of the gathering for me was learning from Cyrus Tata of the University of Strathclyde about the growing interest in problem-solving justice in Scotland.   Also exciting was meeting so many people who had either visited one of our demonstration projects, read our written work, or met someone from the Center for Court Innovation at a conference -- it felt like the Center for Court Innovation truly has a global reach. 

In general, Oxford lived up to all of my best preconceived notions. The conference was at Balliol College, which is beyond lovely.  Jane Donoghue has gotten a book deal to publish the papers that were presented during the symposium, so soon enough you will be able to test my version of events against the written record.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Bit of Midtown History

As I wrote last week, I've been working on a paper for an international conference on problem-solving courts that will take place next week in Oxford.  As part of writing the paper, I've been spending some time sifting through the history of the Center for Court Innovation.  Among my discoveries was a file drawer full of early press clips from the Midtown Community Court.  The media coverage was almost universally positive.  What impressed me the most was that Midtown was endorsed by the editorial boards of all of New York’s daily newspapers, from the conservative New York Post ("the proposed community court represents a creative effort to render a neighborhood plagued by petty crime both safer and more conducive to commerce.") to the liberal New York Times ("Rather than impose fines or short jail terms...the new court would sentence many [minor] offenders to useful tasks like cleaning graffiti, helping at soup kitchens or sorting trash at recycling centers.").

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Brownsville in the News...

...for all the wrong reasons.  The headline in today's New York Daily News: "Held Hostage in Brownsville: Residents too afraid to leave their homes because of gun violence."  

Almost every week, I get an email from James Brodick, who directs our Brownsville Community Justice Center, about a new shooting or stabbing in the neighborhood.   Despite the depressing headlines, there's a lot of positive developments in the neighborhood, several of which the Daily News article makes reference to, including Brooklyn DA Joe Hynes' Back on Track initiative.   In conjunction with a range of government and neighborhood partners, we are in the process of launching a new anti-violence program that will focus on high-risk parolees.  To learn more, check out the Brownsville Community Justice Center blog for regular updates. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

From the Archives

I've spent a fair amount of time this week with my door closed writing.  In a week's time I'm going to England to participate in an international symposium on therapeutic jurisprudence and problem-solving justice put together by Jane Donohue, a professor at the University of Oxford.  I'm delivering a paper with the working title, "Reflections on Two Decades of Success and Failure with Problem-Solving Courts," so I've had an excuse to go back through the archives of the Center for Court Innovation.  I've found a bunch of interesting stuff but I'll share just one document here: the original concept paper for the Red Hook Community Justice Center, which was one of the first things that I wrote after coming to work here back in 1994. 

While I'm on the subject of archival material, I also wanted to share this link to an unreleased KRS-One track entitled "It's Gettin' Hectic."  The song dates from 1993 and comes from the sessions that KRS-One did with DJ Premier for the Return of the Boom Bap album -- arguably the greatest hip-hop producer and MC working together at the top of their respective games.  How did this cut not make the album?  Every time that I get depressed about how much time I spend online, up pops a gem like this that probably would never have seen the light of day were it not for the Internet.  I'm praying that there's more where this came from...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Booker on Court Reform

Another recent quote that I liked, this time from Newark Mayor Cory Booker, in an online discussion the other day on reddit:  "Court reform . . . I discussed this in another answer but by having youth courts, veterans courts, drug courts and more, we are finding that we can empower people to stay out of jail and turn their lives around as opposed to get chewed up in the system. Court innovation is critical and Newark is leading the way in New Jersey thanks to great partners like The Center For Court Innovation in NYC."

How to Criticize Courts

New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman had an interesting op-ed in yesterday's New York Daily News that touches on the stop-and-frisk debate.  Lippman's principal point was to defend the judges who have had to make controversial rulings involving stop-and-frisk encounters from personal attacks by politicians and editorial writers.  But he also acknowledged the positive role that criticism of the courts can play: "The judiciary is one of our most important democratic institutions, and no public agency is immune to criticism. Indeed, criticism of the judiciary can be healty and constructive, helping to spur innovation and needed improvements in the administration of justice."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Three Quotes

The Centre for Justice Innovation, our London outpost, is readying a new paper that looks at Intensive Alternatives to Custody, a pilot probation program that, against the odds, has managed to survive despite the withdrawal of central government funding.  In reviewing an early draft of the paper (which is great, by the way), one of my critiques was that it needed more quotations.  As a reader, I am a sucker for a good quote.  I like to think that one of the things that distinguishes our writing at the Center for Court Innovation from some other agencies is that we use quotations almost as much as a good newspaper does.

Anyway, here are three (non-criminal-justice) quotes I came across recently that struck a chord with me:

Iggy Pop in the New York Times: "I couldn't stand the sincere punks.  I never believed them.  Still don't.  Like the Clash were going to make the world politically correct for everybody's benefit -- but only if you kept buying Clash records. I never really went for the righteousness."

(These lines sent a little shudder through me.  The Clash have long been my favorite band, but as I grow older, I am beginning to agree with Iggy's assessment.)

DJ Premier on Rakim: "I like when you look and sound like the record.  Before we even knew what Rakim looked like, we didn't know what Eric B. looked like, when we saw them, we were like, they looked just like the record...[Rakim] looked like what we were hoping he was going to look like."

(I think Premier hits on an underrated part of Rakim's reputation here: for all the justified accolades his lyrics earn, his appearance has always been a big part of his appeal.)

Josh Levin of Slate on LeBron James: "His horrible self-presentation during and immediately after his move from Cleveland to South Beach meant that any on-court failings would be seen as personal ones, consequences of ego and selfishness rather than of poor form on his jump shot. This conflation of game and life—the notion that good players are good, self-actualized people—is the sports media’s laziest, most-infantilizing habit."

(I couldn't agree more.  Levin goes on to write: "The struggles of great players do not always have a deeper meaning...struggles with a game aren't indicative of struggles with personal demons...even the greatest players can be stymied in their efforts to win the NBA Finals.")

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mental Health Courts Work

I'm back in New York after an all-too-short vacation in Martha's Vineyard.  While I was gone, we sent around an email blast announcing the release of the Urban Institute's evaluation of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court.  The study, which documents reductions in recidivism among participants in the mental health court when compared to similarly situated defendants whose cases received conventional case processing, was picked by the New York Law Journal which did a short piece on its front page yesterday (behind a pay wall, unfortunately, so I'm not bothering with a link).  Our friend Kevin Burke at the American Judges Association also did a short blog posting about the study under the headline "Mental Health Courts Work."

While I'm sharing links -- and with apologies if this crosses some sort of invisible self-promotional line -- here is an interview I did recently with two members of our Youth Justice Board about the Center for Court Innovation's work with young people.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Talking It Through

Last night in Harlem was the formal premiere of the Youth Justice Board's short film about police-teen relations, "Talking It Through."   The film was the culmination of more than a year's worth of work, which included focus groups, interviews with a variety of justice officials, and a survey of local young people.  The teen members of the Youth Justice Board came to the conclusion that miscommunication and misunderstanding between police officers and young people was a crucial obstacle to addressing youth crime in places like Brownsville.  In an effort to jump start a civil conversation about police-teen relations, the Board created "Talking It Through." 

What I like best about the short film is that it manages to touch on difficult issues like race and stop-and-frisk in a spirit of openness and comity rather than recrimination.  Last night's premiere at the Maysles Cinema certainly embodied this approach.  During the question-and-answer segment following the screening, there was a healthy back-and-forth between the teenagers on the Youth Justice Board, police officers, and other justice officials in attendance.   With any luck, "Talking It Through" will stimulate similar conversations in other settings for many months to come.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What's Going On

One of the many pleasures of working at the Center for Court Innovation is the diversity of the work we do.  To give you just a sense of what I mean, here are four links that were sent to me, all from this morning:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Busy Times

This month has been chock-a-block with Center for Court Innovation events.  I've reported on a few that I have attended, but the truth is that I have missed a bunch too, including a Harlem Youth Court graduation, a Greenpoint Youth Court celebration featuring NYC Probation Commissioner Vinny Schiraldi, a Midtown Community Court event at the Museum of Modern Art featuring artwork created by former prostitution defendants, and a Red Hook Community Justice Center event at the New School.

One event that I did manage to attend last week was a farewell party for Justine Van Straaten, who is leaving the Center after 8 years.  Justine was a key addition to the Center.  The Center's roots are in the world of criminal justice, but over time we have begun to make a deeper and deeper institutional investment in Family Court as well.  Hiring Justine was an important step in this process.  Over the years, she has worked closely with the administrators of the New York City Family Court on a range of reform ideas.  We will miss Justine, but we intend to continue to work with Family Court for many years to come.